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Raat Akeli Hai - long day's journey into night

Jatil, a Hindi word meaning complex or intricate, is an apt first name for the protagonist of Raat Akeli Hai, which premiered today on Netflix. It is a whodunit set in the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh so obviously it cannot restrict itself to being just a murder mystery. Politics, corruption, casual as well as overt sexism and misogyny are just an inherent part of the milieu the movie inhabits, and embedded into the fabric of life there in a way that nobody bats an eye.

A gory prologue on a dimly lit, dusty highway sets the stage for the events that unfold. Five years later, Inspector Jatil Yadav (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a Kanpuriya Hercule Poirot (can we say sasura humaar Poirotava?), is thrust into a whodunit in the middle of the night. Like Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc in Knives Out (2019), which I reviewed here, he enters a mansion, where a murder has been committed, and every denizen seems to have a motive. The victim, Raghubeer Singh, the patriarch of an extended family, is found dead on his wedding night on his bridal bed. His bride, Radha (Radhika Apte, who seems to have a vice-like grip on Netflix - she has appeared in Lust Stories, Sacred Games and Ghoul, all just in 2018), his nephew Vikram and niece Vasudha (Shivangi Raghuvanshi who was the innocent and naive Jaspreet in Amazon's 2019 series Made in Heaven), their mother, his daughter Karuna (Shweta Tripathi from Masaan (2015) which brought her to notice) and her husband - all seem equally culpable of the crime, Add to the mix the local MLA Munna Raja (Aditya Srivastava, forever doomed to be known as Inspector Abhijeet from Sony TV's meme-worthy police procedural C.I.D) and SSP Shukla (Tigmanshu Dhulia, whose credits over the years include writer and director but will also always be remembered mainly for his role in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) as politician Ramadhir Singh who meets a spectacularly bloody end on a commode). Finally, there is veteran Ila Arun playing Jatil's mother, feisty and weary at the same time, whose sole aim in life is to get him married off, a la Akshay's mother Preeti in the current Netflix mega-hit cringe-fest docu-series Indian Matchmaking.

At a running time of 2 hr 29 min, Raat Akeli Hai is definitely at least 20 mins too long. There are sidebars with the maid Chunni and her mother that could have been cut short and the pacing could have been more consistent. There are parts that seem dragged out and repetitive, and then the exposition seems a little too rushed, and tied up hurriedly and too neatly. The acting of the high caliber ensemble cast is consistently good though, with Nawazuddin of course being the pick. Surprisingly, for a movie starring him, there didn't seem to be a cuss word hearkening to anyone's sister or mother or any body part in any of the dialogues that I can remember which must be a first for him - Ganesh Gaitonde from Sacred Games must be rolling in his grave. There is also not too much of an unnecessary emphasis on making it seem overtly authentic, the UP tropes and cliches that some movie-makers thrust in your face like the accent or the paan chewing and spitting. The lighting and cinematography convey the noir ambiance effectively and remind you that after Raat Akeli Hai comes bujh gaye diye.

July 31, 2020

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